HALLOWED NORTH: An Interview With Jeremiah Espinoza and Jeremiah Schiek

Writer: Jeremiah Espinosa

Artist: Jeremiah Schiek

Letterer: Matt Krotzer


Comic Book Yeti contributor Byron O'Neal interviews Jeremiah Espinoza and Jeremiah Schiek about their new Kickstarter project, Hallowed North.


Hallowed North Part One

COMIC BOOK YETI: This is Byron O’Neal for Comic Book Yeti sitting down this evening with Jeremiah Espinoza and J.Schiek to talk about their upcoming Kickstarter comic launch for Hallowed North. Welcome and thanks for joining me.


JEREMIAH ESPINOZA: Thanks for having me!


CBY: Let’s dive in. What drew me in about your project is the unique perspective of the whole thing taking place inside someone’s mind. Tell us a little bit about Hallowed North.


JE: Well, like you said, the story takes place in our protagonist Ben Ramos’ mind as he faces the worst depressive episode of his life. We follow these creations called Vapors, mental constructs of people from Ben’s past. Some are reminders of moments he’s not ready to let go of, some are ways to process painful events. And together, they live in Hallowed North, a mindscape pieced together from a lifetime of experiences. As Ben sinks further into depression, a monster appears that sets out to destroy his home and everything he loves.


CBY: Where did the name come from?


JE: I wanted something thematic but everything I could think of came out kinda cheesy. Finally, it was the setting that pointed me in the right direction. I didn’t plan on naming the mindscape but I started thinking, “What would the Vapors call it?” This is their home, this is the thing that keeps them and Ben alive. If there is a soul, its actions would be dictated by the mind. It should be revered, almost as if it’s this holy land. If we lose it, we’ve lost everything.


CBY: My wife is a psychologist so mental health is an everyday topic in my family. What made you want to write a story focused on depression?


JE: I’ve dealt with depression since I was a kid. Throughout my teen years, I’d have occasional depressive episodes that wouldn’t really be addressed. You didn’t talk about stuff like that. It wasn’t real. And as a guy, there’s so much macho BS forced down your throat that makes expressing your feelings seem impossible.


I went into adulthood not really understanding my mental illness, and when I was 25, it all came to a boiling point and my depression progressed pretty severely. Without going into detail, suicidal ideations were frequent and I didn’t really see another way out.


When you fall and break your arm, you have X-Rays and swelling to prove it. If you catch a cold, you have a cough. It’s hard to explain depression to your family, to people like your significant other or your mom, who count on you. So that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted a story to show what the mind, or at least my mind, was going through so that maybe they could better understand.


Once I made it to the other side of that depressive episode, I became vocal about my mental health struggles online. I got a lot of feedback from others thanking me for being so open about it. And once that happened, it became even more important for me to tell this story. In a way, to show people they aren’t alone in facing these monsters.


CBY: We all struggle with mental health in its varied forms. How has writing Hallowed North helped you deal with some of your own?


JE: The idea was formed during a depressive episode, but the bulk of the writing has been done out of it. So to a degree, it’s been painful to return to that mindset. Hallowed North is by no means autobiographical, but there are certainly pieces of Ben’s experience that I based on my own. And that sometimes requires a step back and a mental health check.


CBY: How did you go about constructing this Hallowed North world that Ben inhabits?


JE: That’s one of the things that excited me the most. With a setting like someone’s mind, it could literally be any combination of things. There’s no topographical logic that needs to be followed. You don’t see much of it in the first issue, but that’s allowed for a lot of creativity. I refer to it as a patchwork quilt of memory and fantasy. Time periods, fragments of reality, and imagination all coming together.


CBY: Is this your first comics project?


JE: I’ve had work included in a book called The Pub Crawl Anthology, but this is my first large project to take on.


CBY: How did you come together to work on this?


JE: I found J’s website through a mutual Twitter friend, and after looking at his portfolio, specifically a Spider-Man piece he did, I knew instantly that I needed him to work on the book. I’m fortunate he agreed to take it on because he’s done an amazing job bringing the script to life and elevating the material every step of the way.


J. SCHEIK: As I recall, Jeremiah contacted me through the webform on my site. At the time, I was still laboring under the belief that I myself was type II bipolar. As we later discovered, my very intermittent depression and prolonged highs were inconsistent with bipolar disorder, and more in line with the web of behaviors associated with ADHD. That’s a long story in itself, but I was treated for bipolar disorder for years, and the idea of a story turning it into a sort of alternate world was intensely appealing to me. I said yes without a second thought.


CBY: J, you’ve been busy with a lot of different projects since graduating with your MFA. I’ve been following your Sandman Tarot project. That’s certainly a labor of love. What made you want to start that?


JS: That one started incidentally with the Death card, actually. I had a strong image in my mind of Gaiman’s take on Death stretching back in a field of poppies. The reaction I got to that card on social media spurred me on to make another. And another. And so forth. After I started getting likes and retweets from Neil Gaiman himself, I decided this was going to be a long-term project. I had taken an interest in tarot at the time, also, and designing my own cards was my way of learning and internalizing their various symbols and meanings.


CBY: Who are some of your artistic influences? There’s a Tyler Crook, Harrow County, feel to this book for me.


JS: Oddly enough, I still haven’t read any Harrow County. I’m a big Cullen Bunn fan. Bone Parish was my introduction to his writing, and that book floored me from the beginning. Artistically, I tend to gravitate toward more realistic illustrators like David Mazzucchelli, Charlie Adlard and Joshua Hixson. I would also count Darwyn Cooke in there too, not necessarily as a direct influence on draftsmanship, but more his innate sense of framing. I don’t always hit or even come close to his compositional excellence, but every so often I find a way to frame something that makes me nod appreciatively and think I had a bit of a Cooke moment there.


CBY: What are you working on now, aside from Hallowed North?


JS: I almost always have multiple projects in the works. At the moment, I’m finishing up a couple of promotional pages for another forthcoming Kickstarter with JL Collins, Marisa Brignole and Leland Bjerg. I’m doing a short horror comic with Rich Douek for the forthcoming Nightmare Theater 2 Anthology, wrapping up some pitch pages for a crime book with Kris Keiningham, and also starting to lay in more groundwork for Hush Ronin (which I’m also writing), tentatively poised to put that book out with Band of Bards sometime in 2022.


CBY: Are you primarily using digital tools these days or keeping it old school?


JS: I work pretty much exclusively digitally these days. I did buy a sketch variant copy of the recent House of Slaughter and drew my own cover on it, and that was traditional. All the while, I kept finding myself tapping the tabletop with two fingers trying to undo a bad line, or pinching and pulling on the paper to zoom in, all in vain. A collector in Japan bought the finished book from me recently, which was gratifying.


CBY: In terms of a collaboration, does Jeremiah hand you panel layouts, or how much of the visual topography are you creating?

JS: Really, apart from panel count, I have pretty much free rein on layouts. Jeremiah is good about putting in any camera directions he’s interested in having, but the freedom has been great, and Jeremiah is an absolute joy to work with.


CBY: Has this been a challenging visual landscape to create?


JS: Nothing too challenging yet, although Jeremiah let slip in the DMs the other day, after I showed him a Hush Ronin page featuring a horse, that he was glad I can do horses well because there are some planned for the second issue of HN. That said, so far, so good. The building where Dell and Maggie meet has been a little challenging in that it’s a sort of nondescript labyrinth of hallways, which Jeremiah described as similar to the agent HQ in Men In Black.


CBY: How many issues are you thinking it will take to tell your story?


JE: I have six issues plotted out and three scripts written at this moment. If we get the support to produce all six issues, that would be amazing and I would consider myself lucky. But the story was originally conceived as a prose novel. Adapting it to comics meant that a lot needed to be trimmed and not all of it was fat. If the momentum grows to warrant it, there is enough content to stretch the story out across seven issues. But like I said, the current goal is six.


CBY: You can skip this one if it gives too much away. Will the narrative always be a mixture of reality and what Ben is simultaneously experiencing or seeing at the same time? I was just curious if we ever just enter only that Hallowed North headspace.


JE: When I say “reality,” I mean Ben’s real-life memories that have manifested within Hallowed North. So we never leave that headspace. But there are ways that we explore the real world to see the events that are presently affecting Ben’s mental illness without drifting too far into Osmosis Jones territory. That might sound a bit confusing but I promise it’s cleared up in this first issue.


CBY: What do you hope to leave people with after they finish it? You are using a dark metaphor of a horror story to address Ben’s struggles. Is this ultimately a story of hope?


JE: I actually didn’t set out with the intent to write a horror story. But in writing about something that nearly killed me just a few years ago, the horror came out naturally. I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been and I feel like I’m better prepared to recognize and address negative thoughts before they become severe. But deep down, there’s always a fear that I’ll be back to that point or worse, and not be strong enough to make it through.


But Hallowed North is absolutely a story about hope. That doesn’t mean it’s a happy one. This is the mind’s last stand against unrelenting darkness. And I’m trying to capture that as candidly as possible. But once the issues have been collected in a trade and all is said and done, people should leave with a greater understanding of the giants that those with mental illness face every day and hopefully be a little more empathetic to each other. And more importantly, to ourselves.


CBY: When is your official launch date?


JE: November 9th, and we’re running for 30 days.


CBY: I usually end up being mid-campaign when I do these Kickstarter interviews. I always try to ask how people are feeling. I’m imagining the emotions are a little different pre-launch. How are you both doing?


JE: I’m terrified! There’s an internal screaming that just seems to be getting louder the closer we get to launch day. I’ve never run a crowdfunding campaign before and even though I’ve done a year of research, I’m not sure what to expect. But I’m also excited. This is the first step I’ve taken in giving myself a shot at a writing career. And I’m very grateful for the opportunity.